Just after the US election in November 2016, copy editor Meredith Forrester tweeted back to one of President Trump’s tweets with corrections to his grammar and punctuation. Then she made a habit of it.
“It was just after he'd tweeted about 'winning the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally',” she says. “I realised then that he'd probably continue to use Twitter as an outlet, despite making grammatical or spelling errors, and that irritated me. So when one of his tweets the next day had a grammatical problem, I went for it.
“I didn't think about doing it as a series then, but that tweet made people laugh and I enjoyed writing it and sticking it to him. I decided it could be a series when I tweeted at him about his 'SEE YOU IN COURT' comma splice; even more people had a good time with that one.”
It’s hard to address all of Trump’s mistakes in 140 characters. So Forrester’s compiled some of the best-worst examples into a book called Make Grammar Great Again. Its subtitle is “Crimes against the English Language in 140 characters”. It breaks down some of Trump’s worst offences against language and explains, in grammatical terms, what he’s doing wrong. She hopes the book will make folks more comfortable with the rules of grammar by explaining them in an entertaining and friendly way. It’s broken down into sections explaining the basics of how to use commas, capital letters, terminating marks and pronouns. The “Miscellaneous Misconduct” section covers the way Trump’s dangling modifiers, “clumsy clauses” and “mislaid relative pronouns” lead to ambiguity of meaning and general sentence sloppiness. If it sounds too complicated for anyone but the most dedicated grammar nerd, it’s not. Real-world examples from Trump’s own Twitter account make clear his “crimes against construction.”
Forrester is part of Melbourne writing studio and publisher The Good Copy in Collingwood. She has many gripes with Trump’s writing, but one area she wants to see him improve on in particular is consistency.
“His use of dashes – he uses hyphens instead of dashes, or he’ll use three hyphens for a dash, and have weird spaces around his dashes – that’s pretty bad,” she explains. “He’s never consistent.
“Also, he uses capital letters for generic nouns all the time. Like, ‘Witch Hunt’ is his favourite thing to put capital letters on, at the moment anyway, but you don’t need to put capital letters on ‘witch hunt’, mate. He does it because he thinks it’s important.”
Exclamation marks are also a problem.
“He uses so many. I saw [a tweet] about that terrible plane crash ... and he said: ‘Melania and I send our deepest condolences to all!’. And I was like, ‘Oh gosh, that’s not the right tone’.”
This one gets to the heart of what Forrester – and any copy editor – is trying to achieve: clarity of meaning.
“[Grammar and punctuation are] all about getting an idea across really clearly. And if you know how to construct sentences ... then that really helps the reader.”
Make Grammar Great Again is available here and at all good bookstores.
Okay but that comma is superfluous and anniversary is generic so it doesn’t need an initial capital https://t.co/5AElVWBiE4— Meredith Forrester (@mdforrester) May 5, 2017
Okay but it’s common practice to hyphenate compound adjectives (such as ‘large-scale’) before nouns to avoid ambiguity https://t.co/KwWdQqRb4G— Meredith Forrester (@mdforrester) February 26, 2017
Okay but you need to add an apostrophe to year’s because it’s possessive, not plural (they are the delegates of this year) https://t.co/dCgvO9DFY2— Meredith Forrester (@mdforrester) March 10, 2017
Okay but that’s a comma splice https://t.co/QIq1rzijKu— Meredith Forrester (@mdforrester) February 10, 2017